Reaction was swift following Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's decision to not charge officers involved in Jamar Clark's death, with activists immediately pushing back on the decision while city officials and other state leaders called for peaceful demonstrations as tensions rose.
The long-awaited decision caps months of investigating by state authorities, who recently completed their review in the fatal shooting of Clark, 24, by Minneapolis police. Separate federal investigations by the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division are still underway.
Tensions in north Minneapolis have run high in recent days, culminating in a news conference Wednesday morning where Freeman faced tough questioning by activists in attendance.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, Minneapolis NAACP president, and other activists demanded to know how the police responded in the immediate hours following the shooting last November. They said video shown during the news conference demonstrated the officers were the "aggressors."
The case has attracted national attention since November and in recent weeks took a turn when Freeman announced the charging decision would not be made by a grand jury. Freeman instead reviewed the case with three other senior prosecutors, he said.
During the hourlong news conference, Freeman said forensic evidence and statements by the two police officers involved in the shooting suggested that Clark was not handcuffed at the time of the shooting — a key point of contention in the case.
Freeman acknowledged there were contradictory eyewitness accounts, but that forensic evidence and a lack of bruising on Clark's wrists supported the officers' version of events.
Officers said that during the brief struggle, Clark reached for one of their guns and said, "I'm ready to die."
Steve Belton, president of the Urban League, told Freeman that Clark's alleged statement unfairly feeds into a narrative that Clark somehow deserved to die. Levy-Pounds argued that the police are pushing "propaganda" and did not give enough credence to eyewitness accounts of the shooting.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who lives blocks away from the site of the shooting, issued a statement Wednesday calling for greater police accountability through the implementation of body cameras, improved de-escalation training. He also advocated for creating economic opportunities in north Minneapolis.
"These are critical issues we must address if we hope to build trust," Ellison said.
He added: "Nothing about County Attorney Freeman's decision to decline criminal charges diminishes the importance of Jamar's contributions in this world or the sadness of his death. It's going to take all of us — elected officials, activists, residents — to make the changes our community desperately needs."
Gov. Mark Dayton in a statement offered condolences to Clark's family, who he met with late last year in a meeting brokered by Ellison and activists. "It is terribly unfortunate that this tragedy had to be inflicted upon them and upon our state."
Dayton, who early this month outlined an aggressive racial-equity legislative agenda, also called for a critical look of the criminal justice system.
"These events should require all Minnesotans to take a hard look at our criminal justice system, where it works, and where it does not," Dayton said, noting he agreed with the release of evidence by the county attorney's office.
"We must also confront the serious racial disparities, which wrongfully deny full and equal opportunities to Minnesotans of color," Dayton said.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges issued a joint statement with Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau calling for peaceful demonstrations.
"Many people are feeling hurt, anger, disappointment, frustration," Hodges said. "There is a tear that has ripped through our community, one we cannot sew back up. And together as a city and a people, we can walk through this tear to build what we all want — a city that is safe and equitable for everyone."
Harteau has said police would not tolerate any violent demonstrations or disruptions affecting emergency personnel.
"We value our residents exercising their constitutional rights while also being safe and being treated with dignity and respect," Harteau said. "Our highest priority will be keeping everyone — demonstrators, the public and police officers — safe as the city reactions to this decision."
State Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, issued a statement Wednesday decrying the decision but calling for peace. Dehn represents the area of Minneapolis where black residents have a deep distrust of police and have called for reforms.
"I'm upset that he chose not to seek charges and know many others in our community will be too," Dehn said. "I'm asking those frustrated and angry with this decision to join me in focusing on positive actions that will bring about changes of existing systems we've been seeking. We all know that the criminal justice system disproportionately negatively impacts communities of color, but now isn't the time to weaken our message with violence."
Mel Reeves, a member of Twin Cities Committee 4 Justice 4 Jamar, said demonstrators will rally at the Hennepin County Government Center at noon Thursday to demand that officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarz be prosecuted.
Reeves called Freeman's account "a great fairy tale."
He added: "It doesn't line up with anything that witnesses told us. None of the witnesses saw a struggle for a gun … What they told us today is that Minneapolis police are above the law. We won't quit until we get justice."
Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a north Minneapolis nonprofit, in a statement said: "We are deeply disappointed at today's non-indictment of the police officers who executed Jamar Clark, which sends a clear message that the Minneapolis police may act as judge, jury, and executioner in interactions with unarmed black men."
Ron Edwards, a longtime Minneapolis civil rights activist, also decried the decision but argued there could have been a different outcome if a grand jury had made the charging decision.
Edwards said it was a mistake for Blacks Lives Matter to oppose taking the case to a grand jury, where he said there could have been a better chance for an indictment of police officers.
Under pressure from civil rights groups, Freeman announced in March that the Clark case, and other police shootings of civilians would no longer be taken to the grand jury, but would instead be decided by his office.
Charles Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, in a statement praised the release of evidence considered by the Hennepin County attorney's office, saying the increased transparency was welcome.
Samuelson, however, expressed consternation at the timeline presented by Freeman.
"Jamar Clark was shot within 61 seconds of officers arriving on the scene," he said. "It is unsettling that he was shot so quickly. Officers should have allowed more time to address the situation fully."
Miski Noor an organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, said she was "disgusted" by the decision.
"I want to throw up and cry, all at the same time," she said. "This is a failure of Mike Freeman, of Betsy Hodges, of Janeé Harteau and the police department. They failed to do the job. They murdered a member of our community and refused to actually get justice for Jamar and his family. It is because this system has never valued black lives."
Noor said Freeman "spent 30 minutes telling the story, and basically demonizing Jamar Clark while taking the word of the very police who killed him as gospel while also delegitimizing the eyewitness accounts of all of the community members."
Black Lives Matter has planned a gathering at Elliot Park for 6 p.m., Noor said. Asked whether there will be a march or demonstration afterward, she said, "We'll have to see what the vibe is, what the community wants, and go from there."
Some businesses on the North Side closed in the wake of the decision as they prepared for any protests or other unrest.
The Cub Foods on Broadway Avenue shut its doors in the morning. Shoppers who approached found a barricade of shopping carts and staff members calling out that the store was closed. A sign on the window promised that the grocery store would reopen at 6 a.m. Thursday.
Ricardo Lopez • 651-925-5044
Star Tribune staff writers Randy Furst and Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report.